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How to Read All The Books You Want To

If you want to have more time to read, set a goal and make a few small adjustments. Now get to reading all those great books. ::

This year I have a goal to read 40 books. That feels a bit audacious, even though I know people who have a reading goal much higher even than that.

I started setting reading goals for myself a couple of years ago, when I realized I was hardly reading any more and I really really missed the act of really getting lost in a good book. I missed the intellectual workout. I missed the escape from my day to day life and the peek into lives far different than my own. I missed the practice of reading good writing and studying the craft of it, to make my own writing better. I just missed being a reader and I wanted to be a reader again.

Each year since then I’ve passed my goal, so I feel confident in sharing what I’ve learned about finding more time to read, so you, too, can read all the books you want to.

Make It Easy

To make your book the first thing you turn to, you have to make it really easy. Easier than picking up your phone and opening Facebook.

I love paper books. I really, really do. But I realized that if I wanted to read more, I was going to have to embrace other formats. I’ve tried eBooks on my iPhone (small, but very accessible) and my iPad (pretty good!). My partner uses a Kindle and he loves it.

I’ve also tried audio books, which I remember really enjoying when I had a long commute to work, but I can’t seem to make them work in my life right now. I know other moms who love audio books and listen to them while they walk or work around the house.

Experiment a bit to see what works for you. Even if all you do is start carrying a bigger bag so you can have your traditional book with you all the time, that’s great. Convenience is the key.

Find Gaps of Time

One of the great things about reading is that you can do it any time, anywhere (almost…). If you use an e-reader, you can even do it in the dark!

Once your reading material is convenient, you can fit it into pretty small gaps of time. While you are waiting in line at the carpool. While your kid is in a class (Does anyone else look forward to gym and ballet classes like I do?), or playing at the park. During the bedtime hour, if you keep your child company while they fall asleep.

You can listen to audio books while you cook dinner, while you drive, and while you exercise.

Small gaps add up – you might be surprise how quickly you can get through a book when you tuck it around all the edges of your life.

Give Something Up

If the gaps of time you’ve found aren’t enough, or you want the luxury of reading for longer stretches, you may need to give up something else to create those stretches. What do you spend time doing throughout your week? Try tracking your day in detail for a few days to see where your time goes. TV? Pinterest? Email? You may be surprised.

A number of years ago I turned off my cable account, which freed up a lot of time I was mindlessly spending in front of the TV watching shows I didn’t really care about. Check your time map against your priorities – are you putting your time on what you care about most? If not, make some adjustments.

Define And Track Your Reading Goal

The first year I decided to focus on reading as a priority, I set a goal of reading two books every month. That meant by the end of the year I would have read 24 books, which felt achievable, but still a challenge.

I tracked my progress by simply listing each title in an Evernote document as I finished it. I noticed that some months I’d finish only one book, and other months I’d read three or four. And I surprised myself by finishing the year with 26 books on my list.

I’ve long understood the value of setting a goal and writing it down. If you want to read more, say you are going to do it. Define what “more” means to you. Break it down – how many books each month or week to get to your goal? Then make it easy, find or free up some time, and begin. Keep track of your progress, pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t, and adjust as needed.

Be Willing To Quit A Book

One of the things I realized that first year is that when I’m reading something I’m not really enjoying, I read very slowly. And really, there are so many amazing books out there, do I want to waste my valuable time reading something I’m not enjoying? So I gave myself permission to quit a book.

That was easier said than done, because I felt bad – and still do! – doing it. Once I begin a book I feel committed. I’m not a quitter, really, anywhere in my life.

But really, there are places where being a quitter is a good thing, and we should all practice it a bit more. Reading a book you dislike is not a good use of your time. Put it down, start something else. The author will never know.

Do you have a reading goal this year? What’s the best book you’ve read recently? Share in the comments below!

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5 Ways To Find More Energy When You’ve Hit The Wall

5 tips for finding more energy when you need to power it up. ::

Background photo by Martin Wessely

Wintertime is my least energetic time of year. I want to curl up under a blanket, in front of a fire, and read or knit or nap.

As much as possible I do those things. My natural cycle is to be slow in the winter and active and productive in the warmer months. I try to honor that.

But some days I really need to get a bit of hustle on and get things done. On those days, I’ve learned a few tricks to wake my body up and dig deep to find more energy.

If you are feeling sluggish and need a move on today, here are five ways to get yourself going.

1. Move Your Body

It is the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling sleepy, but getting your body moving is the easiest way to wake up. Have a five minute dance party, go for a quick walk, or just do a few yoga stretches (this site shows 10 two-pose combinations that are great energy builders).

2. Drink Some Water

Adequate hydration supports good circulation and efficient muscle function. If you are feeling sluggish, drink a glass of water to help your body function in top form, which will help you feel more energetic.

3. Reduce Stress

While reducing stress is generally not something you can fix quickly, there are ways to help you feel less stressed in the moment, which will give you focus and clarity to get things done. Do a brain dump, clear a few things from your calendar, or spend just five minutes meditating.

4. Eat A Healthy Snack

I crave cookies when I’m dragging, but cookies are counter productive – they just make me sleepier! Instead, make yourself a nutrient dense snack that will give you fuel to burn for a few hours. A good rule of thumb is a combination of healthy carbohydrates and protein – apple slices and peanut butter or crackers and hummus. This article has a few good suggestions for energy-producing snacks.

5. Change the Scenery

Sometimes fatigue is more situational than physical. If you’ve been concentrating on one task for a long stretch and are flagging, get up and do something  else for a while. Engage your brain in a different way for at least 15 minutes before you return to the task at hand. It will help, I promise!

What tricks do you have when you need an energy pick-me-up?

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Focus Your Day With A Single Goal

If being productive today means doing only one thing, what's the thing you need to do? :: www.nurturedmama.netWhen life is feeling overwhelming, when I’m managing in crisis mode, or simply when I’m very tired, I have a secret weapon for success.

I plan to do only one thing. Focusing on a single thing feels manageable.

Sometimes that thing is very small. I plan to brush my teeth (start the day with a victory!). I plan to take a shower, which might not even happen until right before bed. I plan to make one phone call that I’m feeling nervous about.

If achieving my one thing cascades into energy to finish another one thing, or maybe two, that’s awesome. But if it just allows me to give myself permission to take it easy, that’s perfectly fine.

Sometimes my one thing is more of an attitude than an accomplishment. My goal might be to speak kindly, if I’ve been very cranky recently. It might be to forgive, if my love and I have been arguing. It might be to be patient, if my small girl has being trying.

I choose my one thing because it is the thing that I most need, even if the practice of it also feels most challenging.

What could your one thing be today?

What one thing will you do today?

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Workflow Wednesday: How I Use The Printable Charm Planner Pack

Workflow Wednesday: How I use the Printable Charm Planner Pack

I go back and forth with my planning and scheduling support. Mostly I like my planning systems to be digital and in the cloud, so that I can get to them whenever and from whatever device I have handy. But I have a weakness for pretty planners, too.

This year I put together a printed planner for my blog that has been a huge help for keeping me on track and organized. Also, when I’m overwhelmed, I move off the computer to paper. I don’t know why, but the simplicity of paper and pen seems to help me feel like everything is more concrete and achievable. Or maybe I just like being able to cross things off with a pen when they are done.

I’ve been following Sarah Bell of  Printable Charm on Instagram since before she launched her shop, and I love her designs and her philosophy toward life: “I want to feel good about spending quality time with my family, knowing we are focused on the things that will actually matter in 10 years!” So when she put out a call for bloggers interested in trying and reviewing one of her Printable Charm Planner Packs, I jumped at the opportunity.

Official disclosure: I received a free planner pack for review, but the images and opinions in this post are my own.

I chose her Chalk It Up Planner because I love the simple, modern look. The planning pack also comes in Glam Slam and Seaside Watercolor designs – it really was hard to choose a favorite!

Each of Sarah’s planner packs include the following:

  • 2 years of calendars with daily and monthly views
  • Birthday and anniversary perpetual tracker
  • Blog planner
  • Health tracker
  • Financial freedom tracker
  • Direct sales planner
  • Menu Planner
  • Teacher Planner
  • Appointment, activity and black sticker sheets (to be printed on sticky paper)
  • Notes pages

She also offers a separate Goals Planner and a Travel Journal And Planner.

Workflow Wednesday: How I use the Printable Charm Planner Pack

I printed out the menu planner immediately I’ve written about my commitment to menu planning before, and this one-page menu planner and grocery list is perfect for the way I plan our family’s meals.

Workflow Wednesday: How I use the Printable Charm Planner Pack

I liked her blog planning designs, but I already have a planner printed and bound that will through the end of 2014. I may look at using some of these pages for my 2015 planner. I especially liked the weekly sheet that includes an area to track social media promotion for each post and the stats tracking sheet.

Workflow Wednesday: How I use the Printable Charm Planner Pack

The financial planning section is great, but I already do all these things online. If you are just starting with budgeting or really want to have this work in a tangible printed format, you’ll love these forms. There are monthly budget planners as well as a sheet to help you track debt payments and savings goals.

Workflow Wednesday: How I use the Printable Charm Planner Pack

Because I mostly keep my calendar in iCal, I didn’t think I’d be using the calendar pages. But on a week I was feeling particularly overwhelmed with my to-do list, I decided to print out the daily calendar to help me map out how to get some stuff done. I printed the month of October half size and stapled it into a planner pad. Then I filled in all my scheduled appointments, tasks from my to-do list, and my family’s schedule for each week, making sure I wasn’t overwhelming myself on any one day. This has been really helpful in getting caught up in the last week, while still protecting my still-fragile daily energy. The daily view, with its division of morning/day/night is really great for helping me see my day in manageable segments.

There were two things I’d have really appreciated that this pack didn’t include. First, a linked index list of the contents. Because there is SO MUCH in this planner, I spent a lot of time scrolling through it, looking for the one page I wanted to print. It would be great to have an index at the beginning that would let me jump to the  section I’m looking for

Second, I would have liked a very simple project tracking sheet. I know there’s a separate goals planner that contains something like that, but there are many small projects in my day to day life that I need to break down into smaller steps to take action on. I’ve been using this free printable from Ann-Marie Loves.

The upshot? If you like to plan on paper, and love pretty design, these planner packs are awesome. You can find your own here at Printable Charm.

Do you prefer paper or virtual tracking for your schedule and to-do list?

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8 Ways To Make More Time In Your Day

8 Ways To Make More Time In Your Day ::

This is a post I wrote last year about how I made time to work toward a dream in the midst of raising an active toddler. Whether you are looking to make more time in your life for creativity, or for working on a big project, these tips are still so very applicable. I’m pulling them out of the archive to share again.

In a life filled with small children, a home to keep running and a relationship to invest in, where does a mama find time to work on a dream? Don’t despair, you can always make time when something is really important to you. Here are a few ways I found time to get to my goal of launching this blog.

1. I scheduled it.

Scheduling time to work toward an important goal is essential. When you write your dream-building time into your calendar you are making a commitment both to yourself and to your dream. When those hours are blocked off on your calendar and a conflict arises, it is so much easier to say, “I’m sorry, I’m already scheduled then.” Because you are.

Can you find one or two hours you can hold sacred each week?  It should be a time that you can keep fairly consistent week to week. If you have small children, see the next tip. 

2. I paid for it.

Writing a check to someone else to care for my child so I can go work is very motivating. I’m far less tempted to “just see what’s on Facebook” when I know how much I’m paying for my hour of screen time. I used those focused hours for tasks that needed my full, focused attention: Writing, solving tech issues, and reading up on new skills. This is my scheduled work time each week.

Can you afford a couple of hours of childcare each week for your small children? Hiring a mother’s helper to entertain kids while you work in a different room or trading childcare with another mom are affordable ways to find that space, too.

3. I made my work portable.

When my daughter was an infant I spent many hours each day nursing her. While that seemed like a great opportunity to read and research, invariably every time I needed to access a file it was on the computer or device that I did not have near me.  I signed up for DropBox and moved my commonly accessed files there. Then I started using Workflowy and Evernote for my to-do list and project notes. Now I keep almost everything in the cloud, which means I can get to whatever I was working on earlier from wherever I happen to be now, regardless of which chair I’m sitting in or if I’m even at home. I also found a Bluetooth keyboard case for my iPad, which is small enough to tuck in the diaper bag and carry along with me.

In what ways can you re-imagine your work zone?  How can you make it smaller or more portable so that it fits better into the flow of your day?

4. I lowered my expectations.

I take pride in a job well done, while staying just this side of being a perfectionist. But I can not do all that I want to do in my life, while raising a small child, unless I make peace with “good enough.”  Instead of a spotless house, I define a swept floor, clean toilets, and a wiped-down counter as good enough. A shower, some gel in wet hair and a swipe of eyeliner is good enough. Simple graphics and clean design on my blog are good enough. Writing impressions of experience of motherhood with an authentic voice is good enough for now. In some later season of my life I can do these things better, but right now I live within good enough.

I have also had to get used to less than ideal working conditions: I work while my child sleeps, sometimes in the driver’s seat of my car. I stand at the kitchen counter and write while she plays near me. I research my tech troubles late at night before I find my answers and sometimes it takes more than one night. I have lists upon lists of ideas and goals and projects in notebooks that have pages covered with scribbled toddler drawings. It is not ideal. But if I had waited for ideal, you would not be here reading this article because this blog would not exist.

In what ways do you need to lower your expectations in order to get your dream to see the light of day?

5. I found pockets of time.

When Bean was a baby I would read books while she nursed. I read a lot those first few months! Remembering that, I started looking for other pockets of time that I could claim to focus on my blog project. In my life those gaps were mostly waiting for Bean to go to sleep or waiting for her to wake up, if she fell asleep in the car. For someone with older kids those gaps might be found on the sidelines during sports practice, at the doctor’s office, or in line for school pickup.  I also looked at where I was spending time each week and dropped activities and commitments that I was no longer excited about. This is one tip to use sparingly, because your brain needs downtime, too. Don’t fill up all of your margins unless you what you are putting into those spaces is rejuvenating for you.

Where in your life can you find pockets of time that you can fill with small tasks like brainstorming, making lists or reading?

6. I relaxed my principles.

I was not going to be one of those moms who entertained my kid with an iDevice. Until I became one. It turns out there are some really well designed fun and educational games for toddlers that Bean really loves.  She also enjoys looking at photos and videos on my phone.  She gets to watch her life on replay, and I get a few minutes to finish something.

Are there any areas where you could relax a principle, whether it is letting your child watch an educational show one hour a week, or eating pre-prepared food a little more often?

7. I matched tasks to my energy level.

I am not a morning person. But I have a toddler who wakes up at 6AM, if not earlier. With that early start and a full day of keeping up with her, my brain is toast by dinner. I used to be able to work long into the night but that is no longer an option. Now my most productive times of day are late morning and early afternoon.  So I have scheduled my childcare over those windows two days a week and I do my heavy lifting tasks then.  Whenever else I find time during the day I do easy stuff – making idea lists, commenting on blogs and responding to emails, for example.

What is your most mentally productive time of day?  What can you do to clear yourself some space during that window?

Little bits of time do add up, and using that time efficiently will get you where you want to go.

How do you find extra moments in your days? Share them in comments below.

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Get Organized Using Your Smart Phone

Get Organized Using Your Smart Phone

This post was originally published on  Modern Alternative Mama.

As a former project manager for large and complex projects in the computer software industry, I know a bit about keeping information organized and my workflow streamlined. When I got my first iPhone I thought it was a cool gadget and that it would be handy to be able to check my email and surf the web from anywhere.

I really had no idea the impact that one device was going to make on my life. Now, several models and many technical advances later, I can say that my smart phone has changed the way I live. I no longer carry or use a paper calendar, I rarely ever jot down a shopping list except inside an app, I track my to-do lists entirely in the cloud and I keep track of all my work and personal projects and ideas inside my phone.

Few would disagree that smart phones have the ability to help you get and stay more organized, but I often hear that people don’t know where to start, they feel overwhelmed, or they can’t find the apps that best fit their needs.

Drawing on my career background and having spent many hours experimenting with organizational and productivity apps, I have three tips on how to use your smartphone to get (and stay) organized and 13 apps I recommend for busy moms with busy families.


Tip #1 Know your style and your priorities.

Are you someone who loves to plan things out in great detail, or do you prefer to mostly wing it? Do you feel hemmed in by complex plans, or do they make you feel secure and confident? The highly complex to-do tracking app that allows you to sort your tasks by date, priority and project may be perfect for some people, but completely overwhelming to others. If the app you are trying to use doesn’t fit your style, you won’t use it. Don’t pick the app based on the person you wish you were, pick the one that will work in your actual real life.

Along these same lines, get clear on what organizational pain points you want to address and tackle them one at a time, not all at once! Maybe you are trying to get on top of your budget this month. Try a money tracking app and a shopping list app to support that goal. Don’t also start using a health app and setting up a complex family calendar. Once you get your budget system working, tackle the next priority on your list.

If you overwhelm yourself my taking on too much or trying to use an app that just doesn’t fit your personality, you won’t stick with it. The tools are only useful as much as you use them.

Tip #2: Stick with a new system for at least a month

They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit. I find it takes just about a month to set up a new organization system that includes learning a new app and building new interaction habits around it. When you are focusing on better organizing an area of your life, give it some time. Change often feels uncomfortable and awkward, but that doesn’t make it bad. If the system still isn’t working for you after a month, make note of what was and wasn’t working and then let it go.

Tip #3: Delete apps you aren’t using.

If you try an app and it doesn’t work for you, there’s no need to keep it around. I find keeping a lot of old apps that I didn’t like using on my phone makes me feel bogged down. True, modern smart phones have enough memory to keep hundreds of apps in storage, but why bother? Don’t make yourself scroll past them, figure out how to organize them, or make you feel guilty for “failing” to use them. Just delete them.


Here are 13 apps I suggest for organizing the various aspects of your life.

General Information Management

Any list of organizational smart phone apps would be incomplete without Evernote. The developer’s tagline for the app is “Remember Everything.” Evernote can be your digital brain and the way to a paperless office. You could run your whole business out of Evernote. It can also just be a way to track lists of ideas or pieces of information you need to keep at your fingertips, like immunization records, emergency numbers, or clothing and shoe sizes for everyone in your family. You can make it what you want it to be. Evernote can sync data between devices and with your computer, and it is available on all the smart phone platforms. The free version is very robust, but there is also a paid version available with additional features. There is also a great ebook available to help moms get organized with Evernote: Evernote For Moms

To Do Lists

Evernote is great for storing all kinds of information, but when I need to keep track of what I need to do today, I want something far simpler. The app I personally use many times a day is Workflowy. It is a super simple list tool that allows me to track what I need to get done in a basic outline format. I can group like tasks, drill down to just see a group or jump to the top level to see everything. It is free and can be accessed in any web browser as well as through an iOS app for iPhone and iPad.

If you want a bit more detail, try Wunderlist. This app similarly keeps data in the cloud so you can access it from any device, but allows you to set up multiple lists, mark priorities, share lists with someone else (great for shopping lists!), set reoccurring tasks and due dates. The free version will get you a lot of features and there is also a Pro upgrade available. Wunderlist is available for iOS and Android.


The biggest organizing hassle for most families is making sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there. Having a solid calendar system is key to making this happen with low stress and high success. Many families rely on Google Calendar, which allows you to share your calendar with multiple people, schedule reminders, and access calendars from both iOS and Android devices and your computer. It is solid solution.

The next step up is Cozi Family Organizer, which was Babble’s #2 pick in their Top 50 iPhone Apps for Moms list from 2011. While it does sync with Google Calendar, it supports so much more, including setting daily or weekly routines, meal planning, tracking shopping lists and making to-do lists. You can even use it for a family journal. The basic features are free and Cozi Gold is available at a subscription rate of $2.50 a month. Cozi runs on iOS and Android and also syncs with a desktop version.


Right behind scheduling on the stress meter is shopping. A highly recommended app in this category is Grocery Gadget. It runs on multiple device platforms ($2.99) and also has a web portal so you can manage your lists from your desktop. You can sync a list with your spouse and even update the list real time, so if you forget something just add it while they are still in the store. You can organize lists by store or event, arrange list items based on the store’s layout, and can even add photos or barcode information to make sure the item purchased is exactly the one you wanted. Even better, Grocery Gadget can track e-coupons to help save you some money.


When I left my corporate career to stay home with my baby I set up a detailed budget in Mint, which helped me get through that first year of tight finances. Mint would alert me when I was over budget in any area, when money was running low in an account, and helped me to track all my spending to help plan future budgets. The power of Mint is in the web-based application, but the iOS and Android versions allow you to keep an eye on your finances wherever you are. Also, the whole service is free. I’ve been using it for almost 5 years and I’m confident their system it is very secure.

If you are a fan of the Dave Ramsey method of envelope budgeting but find actual envelopes of cash to be cumbersome, The Easy Envelope Budget Aid app will allow you to set up virtual envelopes and then track the money spent from your desktop, Android or iOS phone. You can also share account information between users to track a family budget when you have multiple people shopping or paying bills. The app is available in free (limited) or subscription ($5/mo) versions for iOS and Android.

Health and Fitness

In January, your top organizing priority may well be your fitness. Calorie Counter Pro makes it incredibly easy to track a number of metrics to help you get in shape, lose weight, or even train for a fitness event. Tracking your calories consumed is as easy as scanning the barcode of a package with your phone’s camera and the app will pull the nutritional information. You can also track your weight, time spent exercising, your measurements, how much water you’ve had to drink, and even when you last took your medicines! This app is $3.99 and is available on iOS and Android and you can connect it with other subscription diet and health support through the developer, MyNetDiary.

How do you use your smart phone to stay organized? If you have a favorite organizing app, please share it in the comments!

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An Anti-Resolution Manifesto

Anti-Resolution Manifesto ::

I’m a natural planner and organizer. It is deeply embedded in my personality. I sort things for fun.

I love to set goals and break down projects into achievable steps. I love lists and crossing things off of them. This kind of thing used to be my career and I loved it.

But what I don’t love is planning and goal-setting in January.  I don’t like New Year’s resolutions.

I do love the feel of the fresh start of a new year. I love the blank slate of possibility. I love the room to dream about what the future might hold.

But in January what I want to do most is sleep. I want to clean my house of all the Christmas stuff and make everything fit back into their proper places (this takes some doing, after the influx of holiday gifts for a 3-year-old!). I want to eat a lot of vegetables to counter all the crap I ate in December. I want to perfect my green smoothie recipe and sit in the sun with a book as often as there is sun to sit in.

This week I’m delighted to have a clean kitchen counter and a dining room table with only candles on it. Until we hosted Christmas dinner, that table was covered with strewn papers and stacks of mail and magazines that needed going through. All that stuff went in a box that I have since mostly cleaned out.

Now I can sit at the counter and doodle while my daughter watches her beloved Dinosaur Train on Netflix. We can sit down to dinner without shoving a pile of stuff to one side. These things feel like enough accomplishment for the moment.

I have made some space and in this space I can breathe. I can rest.

What I need most right now is room to breathe. I need to process 2013 still. I need to think about what I want to invite in to my life this year. I need to think about where I am with this blog and my business and what things feel exciting to do next. That is a process that cannot be forced. It needs breathing room to unfurl.

I’m not ready to take pen to paper and commit to resolutions or goals or plans. I’m just not ready.

Maybe you’re there, too? Does it all feel like too much, too soon?

Already this month I have been inundated with articles, posts and sales pages about planners, workbooks, worksheets and classes on how to kick this year off right, get things happening in my life or business, and all the resolutions that all these productive people were committing to.

This year I said no. No resolutions. No plans. No lists.

Not until February.

Next month I’ll think about the rest of the year. This month I’m just going to rest in gratitude for having survived the last one. This month I’m going to invite my heart to tell me where it wants to go, instead of using my head to lead the way.

Will you join me?

Leave a comment and let me know how you are making yourself some room to breathe this month.

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Soul-Fed Mama: Make Big Progress In Just 15 Minutes

Make Big Progress In Just 15 Minutes, part of the Soul-Fed Mama series on

This morning I am feeling overwhelmed. I have lists of projects I want to work on, a calendar full of things I have committed to, and the buzzing background thoughts of household chores and cleaning and fixing that I need to deal with. I am having trouble focusing on any one thing to accomplish anything.

Instead of working productively on anything, I’m letting myself get distracted by Facebook and email, which are decidedly unproductive.

Does this sound familiar?

The way out of this is to start somewhere, do one thing, and give it your entire focus. Even if you only give it a short amount of time, you will accomplish something. That accomplishment will propel you forward to the next task and the next and before you know it your list will be shorter and your shoulders will feel less burdened.

I love the 15 minute method. 15 minutes feels achievable. I can always find 15 minutes in a day to do something focused. What is amazing, though, is how much you can actually accomplish in only 15 minutes.

The idea is to so simple. Just set a timer for 15 minutes and work on one project until the timer goes off. Don’t let yourself get distracted, don’t get up to do something else. Give it your whole focus.

Projects that seem completely daunting can be chipped away at in 15 minute blocks, until you see you have made huge progress.

One spring I completely weeded and cleared my front yard in 15 minute increments.  Each day when I got home from work, before I went into the house, I’d stop in the yard and pull weeds for 15 minutes. It didn’t delay my dinner for long, and it only took a couple of weeks before my former weed-lot was ready for re-planting.

Today I’m going to pick two projects and work on them for 15 minutes each.

In 15 minutes you can:

What project do you most want to make progress on today? What can you accomplish on it in 15 minutes?

This post is part of the 31-day Soul-Fed Mama series. Find the rest of this series here.

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Self-Care Challenge: Make a Meal Plan

cook book stack

photo credit: Mrs Magic via photopin cc

Back when I was working full time and didn’t have a kid, I used to read blogs about women who planned out their weekly (or monthly!) menus and think, “Wow, I could never do that.” I was attached to my spontaneity. I was unwilling to give up my weekend time to do the planning.

But then I had a kid and now I’m home all the time and I’m responsible for dinner. Every night. It seems really unfair how unrelenting that task is sometimes. Every night. Everyone expects to be fed. I like to cook, but I get so bored with making dinner after a while.

For months dinner was really stressful. I’d stand in front of the fridge, in my fuzzy sleep-deprived state, and wonder what I could cook. Every recipe seemed to be missing an ingredient or two. I’d go the store without a plan and leave with a large bill and food I planned to cook until I got it home and the next day I couldn’t remember what dishes I’d been thinking about. 10 potatoes and two artichokes? I’d end up back at the store two or three times each week, lugging the car seat back and forth, getting things I still needed. I’d have the excess still in the fridge that I’d end up throwing away later. And every night I’d be scrambling to get the meal on the table during the baby’s witching hour which was always right before her father got home from work and right during when I needed to be cooking.

That was when the wisdom of the menu plan finally dawned on me.

Now, each Sunday, I take a few minutes (really, it only takes about 15) and do a survey of what’s in the fridge and what’s on the calendar for the evenings in the coming week. I write down a plan for each night’s meal and then I make a shopping list to fill in the gaps. I go shopping on Monday and then that’s it. Each afternoon I consult the menu and I know exactly what I need to do for dinner. If Bean is having a rough day I might start some of the prep in the afternoon during her nap so I can get the food on the table really fast later. If something unexpected comes up, I can switch around the menu plan to make it fit.

As a result almost all the stress has gone out of making dinner. I have a dozen or so recipes that I know the family likes and that are easy to cook and I repeat them again and again.  A couple of nights a week we eat leftovers (and that’s right there on the menu: “leftovers!”) and generally one night a week we eat out. That means I really only cook three, sometimes four meals each week.

I can’t even tell you how much time this saves me over the course of a week. Not to mention the money I’m no longer spending on groceries we don’t need and the food I’m no longer throwing out because it has gone bad before I used it.

So here is my challenge to you this week:

Make and use a menu plan. Go shopping just once and challenge yourself to use everything up.


I’m not suggesting you jump in with both feet and do a big freezer/crock pot prep day (but if that’s your thing you might want to check out my crockpot pin board).  I’m just suggesting you make a plan, so you have a path to follow for your week.

If you’ll be eating out three nights, write that down so you know which days you are off the hook for a meal. If you’ll be out without the family one evening, schedule leftovers or something super simple that night so you aren’t scrambling when you are trying to get out the door. If you only have energy for frozen pizza, awesome. Write it down. If you know you’ll have more time and energy one day, schedule a meal that is a little more involved if that feels like fun.

I use a little one-week calendar white board that I found a Target to track our menu and our week’s evening schedule. It lives on the side of my fridge.  But you can use a simple note pad or log it into your regular calendar. My favorite recipes are in a notebook that I keep on the shelf with my cookbooks, but if you want some tips on how to do your planning more virtually, check out this great post on Simple Mom.

I’ve made you a menu planner (and grocery list) you can print out and use. Download yours here.

Give it a try and see if you can get back a few hours of your week for something other than shopping and meal-preparing. Because, really, we all have more interesting things to do than cook and shop! That’s so 1950!

Are you a menu planner? Do you have any other planning tips to share?

If you’d like more planning and organizing support, check out the Welcome To Summer resource and printable pack, which includes this menu planner, to do list printables, recipe and activity resources for summer fun and more. 

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5 Tips To Keep Email From Ruling Your Life

Email doesn't have to be overwhelming. Here are some tips from a professional project manager about how to manage it better - even if your inbox is out of control! ::

photo credit: slackorama via photopin cc

It amazes me that I used to manage hundreds of new email messages a day when I was working as a project manager, while now I get quickly overwhelmed by just a handful. I find myself with my nose to my phone, checking, checking, and still I have a backlog of unanswered and flagged messages that I need to deal with. It is crazy making.

I know how to manage email. I just haven’t been. So here I am in public, getting back on this horse.  Are you struggling with email, like me? Here are the ways I’ve managed my email in the past that I’m going to start using again.

Limit how many times you check your email each day.

I admit this is the hardest rule for me to follow, but I’m so very much happier when I do it. I really don’t need to know what is coming into my inbox every few minutes. Nothing is so urgent in my life that I need to check more than twice a day, really.

Turn off all audio and visual email alerts and set aside email time when you can actually sort and respond to everything at once. No more than 30 minutes! And not first thing in the morning.  Especially not while still laying in bed. I can’t believe I’m admitting that I do this.

Unsubscribe from everything you don’t really want to read.

This is the most important tip to get email volume under control. If you are signed up for newsletters and sales announcements and find yourself just deleting them unread then take those extra 30 seconds to get yourself off that list.  Set your Facebook and Twitter preferences to stop notifying you every time someone mentions you.

Only stay subscribed to things you look forward to reading. For me that is updates from just a couple of blogs that I love. To keep from having to do this over and over again, make sure to uncheck that little “keep me updated!” box every time  you order items online.

Use rules and threads.

Imagine if the mailbox in front of your house would automatically recycle your junk mail without you having to touch it.  Wouldn’t that be nice? Well, your email program can just about do that for you. Whether you use Gmail, Entourage or Apple’s Mail app, set up rules to sort, flag and filter messages so your email is pre-sorted for you.

For example, if you get blog updates by email, have them filtered into a folder to read later and all at once. If you can’t bear to turn off your social media notifications, filter them to a folder so you can review them in a batch. If you want to make sure not to miss important messages from your child’s teacher or school, set up a rule to flag those as soon as they arrive. Make folders for things you need to keep and reference later like receipts, directions and schedules and get those out of your inbox.

Utilize the threading feature to keep conversation threads together.

It might take a little while to set up all the rules you need, but they will save you so much time in the long run.

Keep your responses brief and your subject lines clear.

When you respond to a message, keep your answer to just a few concise lines. Don’t make your recipient guess what you are trying to say.If your response needs to be longer, flag it or put it in a folder to respond to later.  Set up time for yourself once a week or every couple of days to deal with these longer messages.

Check the subject line of messages before you send them. If your message topic is no longer what is indicated by the subject line, change it!

Keep your inbox empty.

I started using a method of flagging messages that I needed to take action on, but then my inbox was stuffed with a combination of flagged and unflagged messages and the sheer number of flags was overwhelming.

If you are starting with a stuffed inbox, do something radical. Make a folder and put your entire inbox in it. Go through it if you want, but really? If something really needs a response that person will follow up with you. Give yourself a clean slate.

Then set a goal to clear out your inbox completely during each of your daily email session.  Respond to, file, or delete everything until that inbox is empty.

Ah. Doesn’t that feel good?

Do you have more suggestions for managing email? I’d love to hear them!

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